Suck Mails to profs

cweeter
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Suck Mails to profs

Postby cweeter » Tue Sep 16, 2008 12:53 pm

Hi,
I am posting after a long time, and as is the case always, i am here to ask a very very silly question.
I planned to write personally to some professors, on the advice of some of my seniors. What I want to know is, if a prof agrees to let you mention in your application that you have gotten in to contact with him, how much does it improve your chances of getting an admission. Are these generally reliable? Have there been any known cases when a student doesn't get through even on such a consent by a prof?
As application times approach, my apprehension is increasingly exponentially.
Please help :)

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secander2!
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Re: Suck Mails to profs

Postby secander2! » Mon Nov 03, 2008 3:44 am

Hi! Just saw this post and decided to dig it out of the trash and add my 2 cents...I don't really know for sure, but I can say that last year, at every school where I had contacted somebody, I was accepted, and at the only school at which I hadn't contacted anybody, I was rejected. I know this isn't a controlled survey or anything, but I took it as evidence that if a professor knows your name, they are more likely to pull the requisite strings to get you accepted. I didn't do so, but I can only imagine that mentioning the professor on your application would just help to seal the deal (provided that the professor agrees to this of course). From what little bit I've seen of the process, the more people you know personally at a school, the more likely it is for you to get in.

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Unnatural Log
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Re: Suck Mails to profs

Postby Unnatural Log » Mon Nov 03, 2008 8:08 am

I have been wondering about this too. I've heard of a lot of profs who write back with a message that basically boils down to "contact me again once you've been accepted." Still, it seems like it can't hurt to try.

What do you think is the best stuff to put in your contact e-mail? I think you want to keep it short but also prove that you've looked at the profs work. I am thinking something along the lines of: "Hello Prof, I just recently graduated from University A and am looking at applying to the graduate program at your school. I am interested in your work because of X, Y, and Z." Is it appropriate to directly ask if the prof is taking students? I've heard mixed things about that.

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secander2!
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Re: Suck Mails to profs

Postby secander2! » Mon Nov 03, 2008 9:16 am

I don't know if my emails would be good to use as a model but here's what I did. In essence, each was a mini SOP with an apology for my "low" PGRE score (high 700s) and an attempt to point out my strong points; at the end, I asked whether the professor would recommend that I apply to their institution and if not, whether they could recommend any other professors/programs/schools to consider. Perhaps, in retrospect, a high 700 wasn't as bad as I thought for the schools I was considering and so I can't say for sure if I would have received such cordial responses if I had been applying with a weaker application.

In general, the responses were very welcoming, most of the professors encouraged me to apply and they gave me varying degrees of information on their programs. Only in one or two instances did the professor basically say "I'm too busy to respond", and even then, they were nice about it. If I were to do it again, I would have shortened my email a lot and not sounded so desperate (at the time I was under the impression that a 780 was a horrible score which would make it almost impossible to get admitted to a top 25 program...I was dumb). Also, I would not have contacted so many people... I ended up feeling very bad that I had to turn down so many professors after they had gone out of their way to tell me about their department.

I really don't know whether it's a good idea to ask directly if the prof is taking students, but I believe that asking if they think that their school is a good fit for you or if they could recommend a different program is a fairly diplomatic way of asking them if they want you. In this way, they don't have to refuse you directly but they can just say that perhaps you should consider another professor at a different program/school who is more suited to your research interests (which is also nice because you can learn about places which you weren't considering before)... alternatively, if they DO really want you, they can strongly suggest that you should apply to their department. So yea, I know my experience is far from an ideal of how to contact professors, but maybe it'll help somewhat. For my part, since I'm applying again to graduate school this year, I'd really like to hear other people's experiences/opinions on the matter.

cato88
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Re: Suck Mails to profs

Postby cato88 » Mon Nov 03, 2008 9:29 pm

Unnatural Log wrote:I have been wondering about this too. I've heard of a lot of profs who write back with a message that basically boils down to "contact me again once you've been accepted." Still, it seems like it can't hurt to try.


Thats the type of response I have received

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gliese876d
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Re: Suck Mails to profs

Postby gliese876d » Thu Nov 13, 2008 2:39 pm

Is now about the time to be contacting profs? Last night, I just sent two messages out to a couple profs I'm especially interested in working with, so far with no response, but I imagine it's too soon to worry that they haven't responded yet. Is it too early to be contacting profs now in mid Nov.? Or have I waited *too* long, given that I might want to have time to hear a response from them before I send out my applications (some of which are due in early Dec)?

lallooprasad
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Re: Suck Mails to profs

Postby lallooprasad » Thu Nov 13, 2008 3:08 pm

I have always wondered about how to make the whole process of mailing professors would work. I just started research a few weeks back and I don't know what to say. Ideally one would want to work with top names of the field but will they reply to your mail? I don't think so. Still worth a try! :D

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Helio
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Re: Suck Mails to profs

Postby Helio » Thu Nov 13, 2008 4:53 pm

I asked this question to the admissions chair here and he says that these emails are poison. There are so many people that write these suck emails that it gets annoying. They "poison the well" so to speak... i would recommend not to. Let the LORs, test scores, or GPA speak yourself not some sucky email

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gliese876d
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Re: Suck Mails to profs

Postby gliese876d » Thu Nov 13, 2008 10:10 pm

Really? My advisor specifically said I should try contacting some profs who do research I'd be interested in, and actually I got my first response today, which seemed fairly encouraging. I wonder why there are conflicting reports as to the benefit of such emails... Where is that adminprof from last years' discussions when we need him?

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quizivex
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Re: Suck Mails to profs

Postby quizivex » Thu Nov 13, 2008 10:42 pm

Surely there are conflicting reports about a lot of aspects of the admission process... some will say that the GRE is the most important factor because it's objective, comprehensive, and easy to interpret (just a number), but others will say it's your research experience and recs that prove your aptitude for real physics so they are more important. Who's right? Well both... some committees, depending who is on them in a given year, will weigh certain things more than others... The best thing to do is to shine in both! :wink:

Similarly for suck mails, surely it's possible that making a contact will win you the favor of that prof who may vouch for you later on (see Secander2!'s post)... though it's also possible he'll view your message as an attempt to kiss his ass at the expense of his precious time. The beauty of this forum is that all these varying opinions put all the cards on the table in a sense, and allow you to make a more informed decision about what to do in a given situation. Clearly the opinions on the forum thus far have swayed in favor of not sending these e-mails, but just take these as friendly opinions and always go with your instinct in the end.

My opinion is that it's best not to send them. Plenty of students will be messaging these profs trying to get a foot in the door, and frankly, even if you have a genuine interest in his work and a good reason to contact him, no matter how you word your message, he could interpret it as a suck mail unless you've had some prior communication with him, such as a brief chat at an APS meeting or an REU program.

But you can just as easily look at it like this: What's the worst that can happen? Surely the prof won't remove your app from consideration just because you contacted him... he'll simply disregard the e-mail. What's the best that could happen? He vouches for you and it makes the difference in the decision! So the "expected value" here is positive. Thus maybe you should do it.

Also, note that there are legitimate questions to ask a faculty member... for instance,
"Dear Prof XYZ, I'm applying this fall and I'm interested in XYZ subject. After perusing your school's website, I see there is work in this area being done in two departments. I'm unsure whether I should apply to physics or applied physics... what would you recommend?" I thought about sending e-mails because I was applying from a lackluster school to programs that were completely unrelated to the prior work I was involved with, but instead I just used my SOP as my chance to explain my reasons for choosing their program.

I'm just advising against these types of messages:
"Dear Prof XYZ, I'm absolutely fascinated with your work.... I've done similar research with Dr. XYZ at my school and have the following publications:
...........
I would love nothing more than to continue working on this subject in grad school. Do you think my GRE score ___ will hurt my chances of admission here?"

Hypernova
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Re: Suck Mails to profs

Postby Hypernova » Thu Nov 13, 2008 11:30 pm

This is a huge moral conflict (I hope I use the right word) for me really. Like quizivex said, the result is either zero or positive for me, but it tends to be negative for the professors I guess. My standing is that I shouldn't, but I too want to do anything to increase my chance of getting it.

I think I won't send any though. It's going aginst my values and cultural background too much.
Last edited by Hypernova on Sat Nov 15, 2008 12:04 am, edited 1 time in total.

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gliese876d
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Re: Suck Mails to profs

Postby gliese876d » Fri Nov 14, 2008 12:40 am

I wonder if the type of schools and programs you're interested in has any bearing on whether or not to email a prof, simply to see if the research group might be a good fit for you (not necessarily with the motive of sucking up but simply to get information, which is kind of what my motive was since I have a rather long list of schools that I need to prioritize). I mean, I'm not emailing profs from the very top ivy league schools, and my research interest (extrasolar planets) is not presumably as hot a subfield for entering grad students as say condensed matter. So I wonder if the "too busy" and "too many emails from prospective grad students" factors are minimized in my situation... Or maybe I'm just justifying?

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zxcv
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Re: Suck Mails to profs

Postby zxcv » Fri Nov 14, 2008 5:34 am

According to Donald Asher (who has talked with many admissions officers -- that book is highly recommended, by the way), you should contact professors. Several times, even. Send one email, then if there's no reply send the same exact message 3 days later, then a week later send it with a "do I have the right email address?" note.

I'm not sure that's really the best strategy, but clearly winning over a professor on your side can make for a huge difference in grad school admissions. Obviously, you should only do this if you can make a compelling case for why you'd like to work with this prof in particular.

It's totally a random thing but if you can get a contact with a professor (and better yet, meet in person) you may dramatically increase your odds of admission. Or they may just ignore you. But especially if your research interests are well targeted, specific and a bit more obscure, I can see many upsides with few downsides.

According to my googling last fall, the general consensus was to be that the best way to contact a professor is to introduce yourself and then ask a relevant question about their research. Don't ask them questions you could get answered by the department website or secretary, or that they can't answer without looking at your full application (e.g. is my GRE score good enough?). Better questions might be about future directions for the group, connections to your previous work, and specifics pertaining to recent papers. Of course, you should have looked over those recent papers before contacting them in the first place! The objective is to start an academic conversation that convinces them of your better qualities and genuine interest in their work.

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WontonBurritoMeals
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Re: Suck Mails to profs

Postby WontonBurritoMeals » Fri Nov 14, 2008 12:35 pm

@ Hypernova,

If this was really a hinderence on professors, then they wouldn't encourage it. If the system sucks, it's really in the hands of the people who create the rules for the system to fix it, not the people who are assailed by it...

May the wind be always at your back,
-WontonBurritoMeals

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gliese876d
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Re: Suck Mails to profs

Postby gliese876d » Fri Nov 14, 2008 11:30 pm

Hey, the way I look at it: some may call it sucking up, but I call it networking, and I only think it can backfire if the person you're trying to network with views it as the former rather than the latter.

Hypernova
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Re: Suck Mails to profs

Postby Hypernova » Sat Nov 15, 2008 12:02 am

This is not my topic, but thanks everyone :). I'll spend this weekend reading professor's webpages and see if any of them actually seem to be a good target. Seems like there are two rules: Not an ivy school professor, and ask question about their researches, not admission. Sounds reasonable enough, I think.

valkyrie
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Re: Suck Mails to profs

Postby valkyrie » Sat Nov 15, 2008 12:06 pm

I plan on emailing a few professors I am very interested in working with, but I probably won't have time to do this for everywhere I'm applying. I think it's worth doing at least with the people you are the most interested in - you can learn more about the new directions their research is going, and if the person is going on sabbatical, not taking new students or leaving the institution in near future, they would hopefully let you know.

I also think this blog post (and comments) from FemaleScienceProfessor has a lot of good advice for what to write/not write in these sort of emails: http://science-professor.blogspot.com/2007/12/writing-to-me.html

aditi405
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Re: Suck Mails to profs

Postby aditi405 » Sat Nov 15, 2008 2:20 pm

Hypernova wrote:Seems like there are two rules: Not an ivy school professor, and ask question about their researches, not admission. Sounds reasonable enough, I think.

are ivy school professors so vain/busy that they wouldn't want to be disturbed by prospective graduate students who are genuinely interested in their field of research? I mean is it really an unspoken rule? if thats the case its sad.

admissionprof
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Re: Suck Mails to profs

Postby admissionprof » Sun Nov 16, 2008 1:19 pm

gliese876d wrote:Really? My advisor specifically said I should try contacting some profs who do research I'd be interested in, and actually I got my first response today, which seemed fairly encouraging. I wonder why there are conflicting reports as to the benefit of such emails... Where is that adminprof from last years' discussions when we need him?


Well, here's the adminprof from last year. I just logged on for the first time in six months. As last year, I will stay anonymous and won't try to figure out who anyone is.

At my institution (top 50, not top 20), it won't make a difference if you contact a professor UNLESS there is some very specific expertise you have relevant for their research (you have spent a year working with highly deuterated glomwidgets, and the professor is beginning to work with highly tritiated glomwidgets). It does make a huge difference, however, if your personal statement specifically discussed some professors whose work you're interested in.

But this is only my institution. At others, it might be very different, so I'm not surprised you get a range of views. I can say that it won't hurt to e-mail professors, but it might not help.

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quizivex
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Re: Suck Mails to profs

Postby quizivex » Sun Nov 16, 2008 4:00 pm

physicsdude wrote:Of course they are vain, and also busy being vain. Greetings from Harvard.

A friendly correction: physicsdude is actually from Ohio State. Not trying to start an argument, but it's not necessary or fair to be dishonest on the forum. Students here may start asking you questions about Harvard and you'd have to make up answers.

are ivy school professors so vain/busy that they wouldn't want to be disturbed by prospective graduate students who are genuinely interested in their field of research? I mean is it really an unspoken rule? if thats the case its sad.


This was just another myth/opinion. But perhaps the reason people have this opinion is not so much the busy/vain part, but maybe because in general, students applying to these programs are usually more interested in the school itself than any specific prof, and the profs know that... and secondly, the prof may not feel much benefit in developing rapports with prospective students knowing their chances of admission are relatively small.

cato88
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Re: Suck Mails to profs

Postby cato88 » Sun Nov 16, 2008 4:49 pm

physicsdude wrote:
aditi405 wrote:
Hypernova wrote:Seems like there are two rules: Not an ivy school professor, and ask question about their researches, not admission. Sounds reasonable enough, I think.

are ivy school professors so vain/busy that they wouldn't want to be disturbed by prospective graduate students who are genuinely interested in their field of research? I mean is it really an unspoken rule? if thats the case its sad.


Of course they are vain, and also busy being vain. Greetings from Harvard.

I sent a letter to an ivy school and received a response that was along the lines of you do not stand out but with a slightly condescending tone. It was the least encouraging response I received. I would have felt okay if there was no response or was given an idea of how to increase profile like other responses.

aditi405
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Re: Suck Mails to profs

Postby aditi405 » Tue Nov 18, 2008 8:27 am

I think, one should contact them if one wants to. I hope to apply next year to yale, princeton, harvard and others and even if i receive rude responses, i'll keep bugging them till my questions are answered. my question is is it better to call them or email them?

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gliese876d
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Re: Suck Mails to profs

Postby gliese876d » Tue Nov 18, 2008 10:52 am

admissionprof wrote:
gliese876d wrote:Really? My advisor specifically said I should try contacting some profs who do research I'd be interested in, and actually I got my first response today, which seemed fairly encouraging. I wonder why there are conflicting reports as to the benefit of such emails... Where is that adminprof from last years' discussions when we need him?


Well, here's the adminprof from last year. I just logged on for the first time in six months. As last year, I will stay anonymous and won't try to figure out who anyone is.

At my institution (top 50, not top 20), it won't make a difference if you contact a professor UNLESS there is some very specific expertise you have relevant for their research (you have spent a year working with highly deuterated glomwidgets, and the professor is beginning to work with highly tritiated glomwidgets). It does make a huge difference, however, if your personal statement specifically discussed some professors whose work you're interested in.

But this is only my institution. At others, it might be very different, so I'm not surprised you get a range of views. I can say that it won't hurt to e-mail professors, but it might not help.



Thanks for the insight! I figured it probably wouldn't lead to dire consequences, and even if it's not likely to help much from their end, I think getting some questions answered might be helpful for me, since I have a list of 16 possible schools that I need to narrow down.

By the way, the school I attend now sounds about the same in size and ranking as yours, and after reading some of your posts from last year, I was certain you were a certain prof from my school, but after asking him about it and showing him the posts, he said it wasn't him, but that the things you were saying sounded very accurate. So thanks for your advice; it's good to have you on these boards!

shouravv
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Re: Suck Mails to profs

Postby shouravv » Sat Dec 13, 2008 6:19 pm

At least from my experience, I'd definitely say that it helps you to contact people beforehand, and if possible even meet some at a meeting like APS or AAS where you can just sign up and needn't be presenting. You can also visit schools that are near your campus, and be sure to make appointments beforehand with the professors there who you'd like to meet.

When I wrote those emails, I had a 2/3 line short introduction saying who I am, a longer paragraph describing my undergraduate research, and a third shorter paragraph expressing interest in that professor's work and requesting information on upcoming projects. Be polite, sound serious, and use a spell checker.

Caution: never write to multiple faculty in the same department at the same time saying that you'd like to work with them. In my case, I waited for at least 3 weeks before I contacted a second faculty in a department in case of not hearing back from the first.

I contacted 18 people in the first run and got 10 replies. In the second trial of rest of the 8 departments I got 6 replies. The third trial produced 1 more reply. Eventually I applied to 10 of those schools (decided not to do theory), met faculty members from 8 of those during a major conference in January or at their school (not necessarily exactly that one I wanted to work with, I asked in a later mail who from that department will be there), and got into 5 programs ultimately.

And please don't undermine your efforts as "suck mails". Successfully communicating is a valuable and valued skill. Unless you are serious in these communications, they'll sniff it out at the first skimming.

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a13ean
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Re: Suck Mails to profs

Postby a13ean » Sat Dec 13, 2008 6:51 pm

blanked
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blackcat007
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mailing profs

Postby blackcat007 » Tue Jul 21, 2009 10:27 am

well some of my seniors who made it to US schools advised me to start mailing the profs of my interests, and make them aware of my research exp and interests.. .
does this help in anyway in the application procedure?? isn't the application procedure unbiased of any prior communications with the profs?

cato88
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Re: Suck Mails to profs

Postby cato88 » Tue Jul 21, 2009 4:27 pm

-^
^^^
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blackcat007
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Re: Suck Mails to profs

Postby blackcat007 » Wed Jul 29, 2009 8:54 am

ok so i mailed these "suck letters" to some profs and i also got some +ve reply saying "I encourage you to apply to our program", " when you get admission come by my office to discuss possible research", "I look forward to meet you after your admission" etc etc.. while some haven't yet replied.

but the thing is.. the admission process starts in oct-nov.. do you think these profs will keep my letters in mind till that time?? :?

another impasse:

also i mailed two profs of the same university, one pursuing research in HEP th and another in cosmology theory. I would like to pursue my doctoral either in cosmo theory or HEP th
now i mentioned about my research about cosmology in the summer in the first 4 lines, the HEP prof might have read only those lines and thought my interest to be solely in cosmo, so he forwarded my mail to the other prof. :oops:
do you think the other prof will think me as a two face and have a negative image about me?

shouravv
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Re: Suck Mails to profs

Postby shouravv » Thu Jul 30, 2009 11:20 am

blackcat007 wrote: the admission process starts in oct-nov.. do you think these profs will keep my letters in mind till that time?? :?
...
do you think the other prof will think me as a two face and have a negative image about me?
To the first point, while it's true that this is a little too early (Sep-Oct is the better season to start contacting), it can't really hurt too much. But here is what not to do: don't keep spamming them until you get in, because that will only annoy the hell out of them. Instead, around October/November, send each of those professors who emailed back to you with some legitimate question about the application / science / grad program / letting know your scores etc. Also, simply ask "Can I mention it in my statement-of-purpose that if admitted I'd like to work with you?" Trust me: no sane prof will say no to this. Keep this mail very short, to the point. After you have submitted your application, email these professors your SOP+CV "just in case they'd want to have a copy".

On the second issue, send a polite note to the Cosmo prof thanking him for forwarding your email to the others, and restate that since you are not yet sure if you'll work in cosmo or HEP in the future, would he please send you a few pointers to what he is working on now / will be working on in the near future? Even if he doesn't reply, he'll now remember you. In the future, contact professors in the same dept. in sequence, not simultaneously. BTW, it is not uncommon for professors to send around prospective student emails if they think someone is a strong candidate. It doesn't mean that he didn't read your whole email, it can just as well mean that he thought you'd be good for working with one of several of the department's faculty and so the others should know about you.

highbounce
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Re: Suck Mails to profs

Postby highbounce » Fri Jan 22, 2010 11:00 pm

Question: is it too late to send suck mails now? Is it ever too late (of course before you are officially rejected)?

Mataka
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Re: Suck Mails to profs

Postby Mataka » Fri Jan 22, 2010 11:12 pm

I would say it's way too late, but why don't you try it and tell me how it worked out for you ;)

highbounce
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Re: Suck Mails to profs

Postby highbounce » Sun Jan 24, 2010 3:47 pm

It seems that a lot of international students do this. Especially the students from China, they firmly believe that contacting the professors is a must do during the application process and it's never too late. A lot of them think that these communications with the professors really helped them get in. From their point of view, it cant never be a bad idea to establish a connection and leave an impression on a professor who would then perhaps take a more personal interest on their applications out of hundreds of applications from all over the world.

Would you say that as an international student in the U.S, I don't need to contact the professors, or as much as the true international students do because the admissions committees are more familiar with my academic background and can therefore more comfortably just rely on my credentials?

giga17
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Re: Suck Mails to profs

Postby giga17 » Thu Dec 16, 2010 3:06 am

Well I admit that I did contact some profs, but I would say just limit it to indicating your interests in their labs, and ask if there are possible openings in the future. I also attach my SOP and CV for them to look at if they wish to do so. And I must say I notice a very different culture between the East Coast schools and the Cali schools. Cali schools are much more open to them, and they seem happy to have students contacting them. East Coast schools tend to say "Thanks for the interest, but admissions are decided by the Admissions Office" or something along those lines. I think as long as you're not blatantly telling them to help you pull strings, sending an email should not do too much harm, at most they do not reply.

From my experience, the majority of them do not reply, but those who reply can give good feedback, especially those who have read through my SOP and CV. It's definitely encouraging when they said things like "I enjoyed reading your SOP very much" and "Your CV appears strong". Basically, don't frame your emails too strongly, but give them materials to work with to see what kind of response they want to give you.

scottyY
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Re: Suck Mails to profs

Postby scottyY » Fri Sep 30, 2011 2:16 am

highbounce wrote:Question: is it too late to send suck mails now? Is it ever too late (of course before you are officially rejected)?

i think it is rather useless to send it., since most of them are if not read then neglected and deleted.

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InquilineKea
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Re: Suck Mails to profs

Postby InquilineKea » Sat Dec 24, 2011 6:46 pm

Hmm - has anyone ever wrote a very *thoughtful* email and still gotten no reply at all? I'm just wondering.

Up to this week, I've gotten many very positive replies from "suck mails" (a couple of them invited me to have a phone conversation, and one even got the assistant dean to allow me to apply to two departments). I'm not sure if this trend will continue with the batch of emails I sent this week though (since now I'm revealing somewhat more personal information).

Caution: never write to multiple faculty in the same department at the same time saying that you'd like to work with them. In my case, I waited for at least 3 weeks before I contacted a second faculty in a department in case of not hearing back from the first.


Hmm - what bad things have happened from this? I can definitely imagine it being bad if you spammed 20 people in the department, but isn't sending emails to 2-3 at a time fine? I often tell them which people in the department that I've already contacted, so that they wouldn't feel the burden of giving me instructions that the other people have already given me (rather, I simply ask them questions to further clarify their possible potential research interests). I also try to make it clear that I always appreciate having more professors who have potentially similar research interests (since there isn't just an adviser, but also a committee)

Well I admit that I did contact some profs, but I would say just limit it to indicating your interests in their labs, and ask if there are possible openings in the future. I also attach my SOP and CV for them to look at if they wish to do so. And I must say I notice a very different culture between the East Coast schools and the Cali schools. Cali schools are much more open to them, and they seem happy to have students contacting them. East Coast schools tend to say "Thanks for the interest, but admissions are decided by the Admissions Office" or something along those lines. I think as long as you're not blatantly telling them to help you pull strings, sending an email should not do too much harm, at most they do not reply.


Which East Coast schools did you contact, and which Cali schools did you contact?

With me, I'm not sure what's going on, but I'm getting the best replies from Caltech/Chicago/MIT/Columbia, and more lukewarm replies from most of the state schools (as well as Princeton/Harvard).

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InquilineKea
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Re: Suck Mails to profs

Postby InquilineKea » Sat Dec 24, 2011 7:15 pm

secander2! wrote:I don't know if my emails would be good to use as a model but here's what I did. In essence, each was a mini SOP with an apology for my "low" PGRE score (high 700s) and an attempt to point out my strong points; at the end, I asked whether the professor would recommend that I apply to their institution and if not, whether they could recommend any other professors/programs/schools to consider. Perhaps, in retrospect, a high 700 wasn't as bad as I thought for the schools I was considering and so I can't say for sure if I would have received such cordial responses if I had been applying with a weaker application.

In general, the responses were very welcoming, most of the professors encouraged me to apply and they gave me varying degrees of information on their programs. Only in one or two instances did the professor basically say "I'm too busy to respond", and even then, they were nice about it. If I were to do it again, I would have shortened my email a lot and not sounded so desperate (at the time I was under the impression that a 780 was a horrible score which would make it almost impossible to get admitted to a top 25 program...I was dumb). Also, I would not have contacted so many people... I ended up feeling very bad that I had to turn down so many professors after they had gone out of their way to tell me about their department.

I really don't know whether it's a good idea to ask directly if the prof is taking students, but I believe that asking if they think that their school is a good fit for you or if they could recommend a different program is a fairly diplomatic way of asking them if they want you. In this way, they don't have to refuse you directly but they can just say that perhaps you should consider another professor at a different program/school who is more suited to your research interests (which is also nice because you can learn about places which you weren't considering before)... alternatively, if they DO really want you, they can strongly suggest that you should apply to their department. So yea, I know my experience is far from an ideal of how to contact professors, but maybe it'll help somewhat. For my part, since I'm applying again to graduate school this year, I'd really like to hear other people's experiences/opinions on the matter.


This is pretty much the same experience I've had so far, actually (although I haven't applied yet).

But I am definitely in a small field with a low people to problems ratio.

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InquilineKea
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Re: Suck Mails to profs

Postby InquilineKea » Mon Jan 02, 2012 10:19 pm

Alright - here is my "scoreboard":

Sum total of professors emailed by school (prior to applying):

Columbia: 9 (8 replied, 1 did not reply, several very enthusiastic emails, 1 invitation to Skype)
Caltech: 6 (all 5 in GPS/ESE replied, though Sean Carroll did not :P)
Brown: 5 (all but 1 replied). Special case though, since for some reason, they always hit the "reply to all" button...
MIT: 4 (all but 1 replied, 1 invitation to phone conversation). My fault for the 1 who didn't reply - just looked at the email I sent to the one who didn't reply - it showed a formatting error since I sent the email when i was very tired. :(
Princeton: 2 professors, 2 postdocs (all replied, but research interests insufficiently similar)
Berkeley: 2 (1 replied, 1 did not reply)
Chicago: 2 (introduced through IRL connections first, so it's different. Also, met them again at the AGU)
Penn State: 2 (all replied)
Harvard: 1 (replied)
UCSC: 1 (replied)
Arizona: 1 (introduced through connections)
Yale: 1 (replied), 1 (replied) after invitation to visit but before visit
UCLA: 1 (replied)
Colorado: 1 (replied)
UIUC: 1, but long ago (replied)

I have very diverse interests, so there are multiple faculty at each school I can be potentially interested in.
Last edited by InquilineKea on Sun Mar 04, 2012 3:49 pm, edited 7 times in total.

asdfuogh
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Re: Suck Mails to profs

Postby asdfuogh » Wed Jan 25, 2012 4:50 am

One of the professors (one of my recommend-ers) straight up told me that when students e-mail him, he feels that it is like they're trying to sneak in through a legitimate process. But then.. another one of the professor told me to do it because I might as well see whose research I match up with.. In the end, I didn't do it because I couldn't think of legitimately good e-mails to write, but I wish I did it for half of them, just to see how it would have turned out.

TakeruK
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Re: Suck Mails to profs

Postby TakeruK » Wed Jan 25, 2012 12:24 pm

As I mentioned in another thread somewhere, you really want to write "suck mails" (not sure why they are called that?) to profs if you are applying in Canadian schools (or schools that admit by a similar system). From talking to profs I know, I found that in general, Canadian schools have a small committee that reviews applications to ensure they meet some minimal standard/baseline. Depending on the school, number of applicants, this might just be as long as you meet the graduate school's minimums, or it could be a bit stricter.

However, the key point is that all acceptable applications are passed onto the prof(s) that you applied to and they have the final say (since it's their funding that will be paying you). So, I think it's very important to write these "suck mails" for many reasons:

1. Make sure that they are still doing research in the fields that the website say they are (and have room for students)

2. Make sure that when they see your application, it's not the first time they have seen your name! I think it's polite to at least let them know that you are applying to their school and that you will be including their name on your application.

3. Since they are the one ultimately making the decision, you want to make as good an impression on them as possible. This is a double edged sword I guess, since if you don't write the email carefully, you might end up making a negative impression! But I think as long as you are honest at representing yourself/your interests, it can't really hurt.

4. Finally, I consider applying for a grad student position as basically applying for a job. You don't want to just sit back and hope your on-paper record speak for itself. You need to get out there and promote yourself. Introduce yourself to people in your field at conferences and let them know you want to apply to their school. Write emails indicating your interests to potential "employers". Again, overdoing this can lead to a negative impression so be careful.

I think sometimes scientists want to be TOO objective/distant. That is a great skill when it comes to analyzing data. But scientists are humans and we should not aim to be distant with our coworkers, supervisors, students, etc. I think both students and profs, when picking their supervisor/students, should not always pick the best "on-paper" applicant. Their personality is important and in order to judge that, it's important to have at least some kind of communication outside of the application process!

In addition, someone above posted that one should not write to multiple people in the same department at the same time. I personally think that if you are going to contact multiple people, you should do it all at once...sometimes the profs send these emails to each other so if you wait a week for the next person, they may have already got it. Just be careful to make sure you say the same thing to everyone in the same school though, especially if you are applying to different fields -- be honest and say you are interested in working in both fields. We are at the start of our careers, we aren't expected to know exactly what we want to do. I have the same 1-2 sentences stating why I want to study at School X and my research interests are in Y and Z for everyone. Then I try to personalize it by saying how I can achieve my goals by working with them in their research.

Anyways, that's my thoughts on writing these types of emails. I know every school is different, but I would strongly encourage writing these letters to Canadian schools. I wrote them to everyone I applied to in US schools, mostly for reason #1 above, since it seems like individual prof opinions don't matter as much in the US admission system. But I did it also in the off chance that they are on the admissions committee, or if someone on the committee talks to them about the applications, etc. And it's good chance to talk to those who are prominent in your field anyways!

I got some positive replies, which very useful information (e.g. yes I am looking for more students since all of my current students are graduating, or I'd like to work with you but I won't have funding in the first year so you would have to secure your own or TA etc.). Some people gave very neutral replies (e.g. Thanks for contacting me. Yes I am interested in those topics but our school admits the best candidates and supervisors are not assigned until year 2...etc). And some people I did not hear back from at all, either they were offended, or they were too busy.

I'm not worried about the negative impacts. If they think I am trying to increase my chances by writing them, then they are right. If they think this is a bad behaviour/attitude and I should not be doing this, then chances are, they may not like the rest of my attitude/personality, or, even more likely, I won't like how they operate so all is good.

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InquilineKea
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Re: Suck Mails to profs

Postby InquilineKea » Wed Jan 25, 2012 1:06 pm

TakeruK wrote:However, the key point is that all acceptable applications are passed onto the prof(s) that you applied to and they have the final say (since it's their funding that will be paying you). So, I think it's very important to write these "suck mails" for many reasons:

As I mentioned in another thread somewhere, you really want to write "suck mails" (not sure why they are called that?) to profs if you are applying in Canadian schools (or schools that admit by a similar system). From talking to profs I know, I found that in general, Canadian schools have a small committee that reviews applications to ensure they meet some minimal standard/baseline. Depending on the school, number of applicants, this might just be as long as you meet the graduate school's minimums, or it could be a bit stricter.

However, the key point is that all acceptable applications are passed onto the prof(s) that you applied to and they have the final say (since it's their funding that will be paying you). So, I think it's very important to write these "suck mails" for many reasons:

1. Make sure that they are still doing research in the fields that the website say they are (and have room for students)

2. Make sure that when they see your application, it's not the first time they have seen your name! I think it's polite to at least let them know that you are applying to their school and that you will be including their name on your application.

3. Since they are the one ultimately making the decision, you want to make as good an impression on them as possible. This is a double edged sword I guess, since if you don't write the email carefully, you might end up making a negative impression! But I think as long as you are honest at representing yourself/your interests, it can't really hurt.

4. Finally, I consider applying for a grad student position as basically applying for a job. You don't want to just sit back and hope your on-paper record speak for itself. You need to get out there and promote yourself. Introduce yourself to people in your field at conferences and let them know you want to apply to their school. Write emails indicating your interests to potential "employers". Again, overdoing this can lead to a negative impression so be careful.

I think sometimes scientists want to be TOO objective/distant. That is a great skill when it comes to analyzing data. But scientists are humans and we should not aim to be distant with our coworkers, supervisors, students, etc. I think both students and profs, when picking their supervisor/students, should not always pick the best "on-paper" applicant. Their personality is important and in order to judge that, it's important to have at least some kind of communication outside of the application process!

In addition, someone above posted that one should not write to multiple people in the same department at the same time. I personally think that if you are going to contact multiple people, you should do it all at once...sometimes the profs send these emails to each other so if you wait a week for the next person, they may have already got it. Just be careful to make sure you say the same thing to everyone in the same school though, especially if you are applying to different fields -- be honest and say you are interested in working in both fields. We are at the start of our careers, we aren't expected to know exactly what we want to do. I have the same 1-2 sentences stating why I want to study at School X and my research interests are in Y and Z for everyone. Then I try to personalize it by saying how I can achieve my goals by working with them in their research.

Anyways, that's my thoughts on writing these types of emails. I know every school is different, but I would strongly encourage writing these letters to Canadian schools. I wrote them to everyone I applied to in US schools, mostly for reason #1 above, since it seems like individual prof opinions don't matter as much in the US admission system. But I did it also in the off chance that they are on the admissions committee, or if someone on the committee talks to them about the applications, etc. And it's good chance to talk to those who are prominent in your field anyways!

I got some positive replies, which very useful information (e.g. yes I am looking for more students since all of my current students are graduating, or I'd like to work with you but I won't have funding in the first year so you would have to secure your own or TA etc.). Some people gave very neutral replies (e.g. Thanks for contacting me. Yes I am interested in those topics but our school admits the best candidates and supervisors are not assigned until year 2...etc). And some people I did not hear back from at all, either they were offended, or they were too busy.

I'm not worried about the negative impacts. If they think I am trying to increase my chances by writing them, then they are right. If they think this is a bad behaviour/attitude and I should not be doing this, then chances are, they may not like the rest of my attitude/personality, or, even more likely, I won't like how they operate so all is good.


Wow - those are amazing points. Thanks for the post. :)

I'd also like to add - though - that some of them are happy to email you back even if you don't end up working with them. Some of them really are looking for students who can also fit in with the department. In my case in particular, one of the Columbia professors encouraged me to contact all the others, and many of them sent enthusiastic replies even though they were unable to take incoming students.

In fact, some of the best replies I got were from people who were unable to take on new students (but who still gave me some very useful advice). Interestingly enough - this was most likely to come from those who worked at NASA, but who had a nominal affiliation with their university.

Some very good points can also be found at http://www.quora.com/Graduate-Admission ... admissions and at http://www.quora.com/When-thinking-abou ... wer-emails

TakeruK
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Re: Suck Mails to profs

Postby TakeruK » Wed Jan 25, 2012 3:49 pm

The response by the first poster in your first link above captures exactly why I think these emails are important even when it's not down to the individual prof to decide. I'm not looking for a way to short-circuit the process and get admitted right away. I'm aiming the email so that people I'd like to work with would hopefully remember that I have done interesting work and maybe it will come up in a conversation with someone on the committee and it would help me.




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